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Big Match Nerves

Published: 04 Feb 2005 - 14:09 by rippa rit

Updated: 06 Aug 2009 - 13:48

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Rippa Rita`s championship squash tip

Your level of play and competitive experience will often determine what is considered a "big match".  Those nerves could be coming from a World Championship player or a local Pennant player.  Whatever, nerves are nerves and can be detrimental to performance.
A "big match" could mean as simple as "I want to beat this person". It is a desire to do well and excel.

 What are some of the symptoms of nerves?

The main thing is to recognise the feeling and find a way to settle down. Sometimes the feelings just come and go as the match progresses. This explains why some players cannot concentrate for the whole match. What are some of the ways to control and overcome these negative thoughts and distractions?

  • Concentrate on the process, eg the targets, the corners.
  •  Focus on the doing part of the performance.
  • Hum a tune to relax to get a fluent stride, and swing.
  • Breath deeply and slowly in between points.
  • Move slower towards the service box, without rushing.
  • Pretend it is just another match and who cares who wins.
  • Only think about the things you can control, eg watch the ball, get on your toes, aim for the target, get to the T and so on.

The more "big" matches you play the easier it becomes to stay focussed.

 Experience is a wonderful thing.

Tell us your story.

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From juanfr22 - 06 Aug 2009 - 07:20   -   Updated: 06 Aug 2009 - 13:48

Well, I just returned home from my match, and although I didn't win, my nerves were gone after I met my oponent, in fact we chatted a bit before going on to the court, we have been playing for about the same time, so we were under equal conditions, in fact we became mates and we plan on playing some games in the future. it was a great experience in deed and I will return for the next tournament.
Thanks for all your advices!


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From rippa rit - 06 Aug 2009 - 07:13

Just think about the things you can control, and make your plan very simple - any other thoughts will just wear you out before you start.  Simple plan, eg tight length, try to get in front of your opponent, volley, and be prepared to run run run. 

Good luck and let us know how it all goes.

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From juanfr22 - 06 Aug 2009 - 01:53

Hi all, im feeling those nerves at the moment since tonight I play my first squash tournament in years. I've been thinking about it the entire week, and although I've been playing good and improving, I can't help but think about my weaknesses...back corners, low shots etc. I've been adviced not to think on the people watching the match, to just focus on my game and to do the best I can...wich in the end is what I will be doing.
Hopefully things will be alright, I'll play my best, try hard and even if I don't win I will be glad I played a tournament after some long 10 years of squash inactivity.
Thanks for the advices, just wanted to share this with you all.

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From rippa rit - 18 Oct 2007 - 07:59   -   Updated: 20 Oct 2007 - 06:27

prabbit - from what you described you are trying to establish a routine, and that is how you repeat what you did that made you "feel right" - you try to keep in the zone for the whole match, and not let other internal/external factors affect your performance.Identify the repeatable things, eg listening to music, warm up on the bike, deep breathing,etc.

For those who cannot sleep prior to matches look at the relaxation type exercises and practice them (see Mental Skills in the Squash Library), eg muscle relaxation.

Sam - try to block out the things that interrupt your concentration, eg outside noises like clapping, the opponent carrying on; as well as prior to the match (the day before) pre-empt behaviour you would expect from yourself or opponent and decide how you will handle that in a positive way to enhance your play, eg opponent arguing, opponent pushing, opposition discouraging you with remarks, you making errors, etc. and that way you will not panic when these things happen in the match and be heaps calmer, and just go about your business of playing the match.

Good luck guys.

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From SamBWFC - 18 Oct 2007 - 06:02

Thanks for this Rita.


After my first competitive match at senior level a couple of weeks ago, of which I lost, my head was all over the place. My opponent said to me after "I was ****ting myself when I saw you hitting the ball in the warm-up, I thought I was going to get hammered" but when it came to the game, he won 3-0.


I've got my second match coming up tomorrow, I just need to learn to control my nerves because myself, my team-mates and even opponents know I can hit the ball well, it's just a case of gaining composure on court, and it's something I assume and HOPE will come through experience.

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From prabbit - 18 Oct 2007 - 02:07

I deal with big match nerves when playing higher ranked opponents in my league or playing in nearly every tournament match (regardless if I am favored or not).

For me, my symptoms are none of the things listed above but rather a really fast heart rate caused by the enormous amount of adrenaline and sleeplessness the night before a big tournament (usually the finals). My heart rate is generally 20-25 beats faster. Over the course of an entire match, my heart rate will average 170 with peaks in the 190s. (If I play the same people in a non-league or tournament match my heart rate will average around 150.)

Before the finals of a recent tournament, I really focused on my warmup routine: hot shower, lots of fluids, and listening to my iPod while I rode a bike to let my brain settle down. It must have worked because I won the match convincingly.

Now, the quesion is: fluke or repeatable?

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From rippa rit - 11 Mar 2006 - 21:35   -   Updated: 11 Mar 2006 - 21:36

Viper I see there are 7 things in the tip that can assist overcome a problem when losing the plot.
There are a couple of other tips too, and only you know what works best for you, eg
  • get your heart rate up past 120bpm before going on court (until your heart rate becomes greater than your nervous rate).
  • breath slowly, inhaling very deeply so the oxygen gets into the blood/brain.
  • don't rush around like a mad thing in the warm-up, but strive for rhythm.
  • walk slowly to pick up the ball and walk to service box, take your time, feel settled when throwing up the ball to serve.
  • try not to focus on winning the match, but playing your game, and you will do well.
  • try to shake out the limbs so they feel soft and supple, not tight as a bow.
As soon as you feel panic, you know you are surely going to lose, so just decide to enjoy the game, and it could just all of a sudden fall into place too.

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From Viper - 09 Mar 2006 - 23:07   -   Updated: 09 Mar 2006 - 23:07

I played a comp match the other day and I could not get over how nervous I was, for a second I thought was not going to be able to actually serve the ball.

I have been winning all my matches and the presure to keep winning is getting on top of me I think.

In some ways I think it might do me some good to lose !

What are your thoughts ?

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From drop-shot - 08 Mar 2006 - 20:38   -   Updated: 08 Mar 2006 - 20:38

From this tip "Big Match nerves" I used all the tips (I have a pretty big book of your tips printed out and put into my bag)

and the most important mantra for me was
1. Concnetrate on the process, eg the targets, the corners.
2. Move slower towards the service box, without rushing.

I have to admit I was not tense nor nervous during last tournament. I was so concentrated and focused that I forgot to be scared. And the same time as I was really concentrated on the game, I could smile to opponent after a good shot from him, and even to tap him on his arm :-)

In have to admit I was really self-confident. Losing a game 7-2 I could catch up and win 9-7, as I set myself the target "Now I win seven points in a row" and I did it. Like a man-machine :-D

If I could really stress one major word for all the players trying their skills in the competitive scene, it is R E L A X ! ! ! and I would really explain what it means, but Ray did it already :-))))

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From rippa rit - 08 Mar 2006 - 06:46

So Slavi - the interesting thing is - how much of that coaching tip applied to this match you played?
Is there anything else that could have been covered to assist?
It is interesting also to see the replies now that are twelve months old.
I have been noticing quite a few of the tips are coinciding with the posts in the forum too.

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From drop-shot - 08 Mar 2006 - 03:02   -   Updated: 08 Mar 2006 - 03:02

Hey, it is funny to read the post about my debut on the competitive scene few days after I really did succeded :) ... and look - that was Feb 2005 and my first Amateur tournament, now it's March 2006 and I win in Pro Tour and win ranking points.

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From rippa rit - 12 Feb 2005 - 21:09

Hi Slavi - Good luck with your next step in squash. Hey, like life, it is just another journey you are beginning so don't expect too much of yourself - don't beat yourself up if you lose a match. Just reflect on it, enjoy the good bits. It is now that you will probably truly understand some of the things I have written. My student said "I heard what you said, now I know what you mean". If you have fitness (a plus for you), it is important to keep the opponent on the court until they are tired, then you can use your plan to better effect. To keep them on the court you must limit your errors, return every ball possible, get your opponent's good shots back into play, be patient, attack the loose balls. Stay focused. Look forward to hearing how it went...questions, questions, questions!!

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From raystrach - 11 Feb 2005 - 00:11

best of luck slavi

don't play your match before you get on the court! remember keep it simple, just hit the ball and your instincts will take care of the rest. enjoy yourself!
(rita will be back in a day or two)

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From drop-shot - 10 Feb 2005 - 19:38

Hey there,
Rita, everything you wrote seems to be so easy while reading ... but then the reality might bite a bit. RE: The Big Match, actually, next weekend it will happen to me. After 8 months of everyday practice with my coach I am allowed to participate in Amateur Tournament. Needles to say, I am an foreigner in this country, so I do not speak fluent native language, so you can imagine how challenging experience is just in the front of me. Nobody really wants to talk to me too much as they do not speak decent English...
I wish I use all of your tips and hints and be really focused on game. My coach told me: "Slavi, just play a good game, do not kill every ball. You are fit and you have much better physical preparation then the othere, use it. Let the run and get exhausted..." Well, as you can see, he almost reapeated your words ;-) ... Then I come back on this topic in a week...

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.I was playing squash about four times a MONTH.Now I´am on the court about four times a WEEK.I´am playing league at my squashclub.I can feel (and my opponents too

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